L.A. has its Chinatown, its Little Tokyo, its Olvera Street and even the nation's first Thai Town. Getting less attention is the Byzantine-Latino District, anchored by one of the nation's most beautiful Greek Orthodox cathedrals and also by one of L.A.'s oldest Catholic churches.

This patch of history unfolds along Pico Boulevard in a poor neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles that is home to mostly Central American immigrants who have fled civil wars and military dictatorships.

The Byzantine-Latino District is a relatively new name for an old neighborhood that has seen its share of gangs, crime, graffiti, and shuttered shops. At its heart is St. Thomas the Apostle Church, a 1905 Mission-style structure, and St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, built in 1952.

Four years ago, the Very Rev. John Bakas, dean of St. Sophia, launched an improvement effort for the area, located a little more than one mile from Staples Center. A $500,000 Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative grant resulted in money for cobblestone crosswalks, Victorian lampposts, trees and small parks.

Then last year Bakas and other community leaders re-christened the neighborhood the Byzantine-Latino Quarter, encompassing 11th Street to the north, Venice Boulevard to the south, Hobart Boulevard to the west and Alvarado Street to the east.

"We were looking for a new identity," Bakas says of the scattering of discount stores, Mexican bakeries, Salvadoran restaurants and beauty salons. "We are hoping for such things as a Central American coffee shop, maybe a nightclub to accommodate visitors to the Staples Center, a specialist in Central American furniture, an art gallery, maybe even a theater to perform the Greek tragedies."

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.